Tag Archive | "Sag Harbor School District"

Joe Markowski Named Buildings and Grounds Supervisor for Sag Harbor Schools

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Joseph Markowski was appointed in a temporary position as Buildings and Grounds Supervisor for Sag Harbor on Monday, March 23. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

Joseph Markowski was appointed in a temporary position as Buildings and Grounds Supervisor for Sag Harbor on Monday, March 23. Photo by Tessa Raebeck.

By Tessa Raebeck

Joseph Markowski, a longtime employee of Sag Harbor schools who has continued to serve the district on a volunteer basis since his retirement, was appointed buildings and grounds supervisor, a new position in the district, on Monday, March 23.

In the temporary role, he will take on the duties formerly held by Montgomery Granger, who was removed from his position as plant facilities administrator last month. Mr. Markowski came out of retirement in order to return to the district for the remainder of this school year, giving the board and administration time to find a permanent replacement for Mr. Granger.

After working in the district for five years, Mr. Granger was terminated on February 23. That termination was rescinded on Monday, and the board instead approved a resignation agreement with Mr. Granger.

A school custodial supervisor in the district from 1990 until his retirement in 2005, Mr. Markowski has spent the years since filling various roles in the district and community. He helps annually with the school budget vote and elections and has worked as a substitute school monitor.

At Monday’s board meeting, Superintendent Katy Graves called Mr. Markowski, “a veteran of the district who will be helping us through the transition period.”

In addition to remaining involved in the schools, Mr. Markowski is active in the wider Sag Harbor community. He is an assistant captain and warden in the Sag Harbor Fire Department, involved in fundraising efforts for St. Andrew’s Roman Catholic Church in the village, a member of the Sag Harbor Historical Society, a member of the Suffolk County Bicentennial committee, and is the co-chairman of Sag Harbor’s bicentennial commission.

Mr. Markowski also earned some fame last winter for the photo he snapped of snow melting in the shape of a whale on a Sag Harbor roof, which was first shown on the Sag Harbor Express’s Facebook page and later picked up by a Scottish newspaper, The Scotsman.

“He is a true historian and his interests really include anything related to Sag Harbor,” School Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi said. “You can ask any question and he pretty much knows the answer.”

“Having someone on board who has the time and the experience and can give us that time to reflect and see how we’re going to reconfigure as a system I think is very important,” added Ms. Graves. “Because I think we often rush in and just fill a position to fill a position.”

The administration committed to using the interim period to finding “a more fiscal way to address our leadership needs—the smartest way to go.”

School board member Sandi Kruel told newer members of the board a story about Mr. Markowski, remembering a few evenings some years ago when he slept overnight at the school to monitor the boilers when they weren’t working properly.

Chuckling, Mr. Markowski thanked the board for his “nice vacation” of 10 years.

The next meeting of the Sag Harbor Board of Education is Tuesday, April 14, at 7:30 p.m., immediately following a budget workshop that starts at 6:45 p.m. Both meetings will be held in the library at Pierson Middle/High School, located at 200 Jermain Avenue in Sag Harbor.

First Full Draft of Sag Harbor School District Proposed Budget Presented

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By Tessa Raebeck

In the first review of the entire proposed budget for the 2015-16 school year, Sag Harbor School District officials unveiled over $37.4 million in spending, the bulk of which will go to employee benefits and salaries.

While some numbers have yet to be disclosed, School Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi made projections for several budget lines, including state aid and taxable assessed values for properties in the Towns of Southampton and East Hampton, based on last year’s figures.

Ms. Buscemi projected $1.7 million in state aid, although “this number is subject to change” as Governor Andrew Cuomo has still not released the final state aid numbers to districts, she said. That number represents an increase of 3.85 percent, or $63,027, from the 2014-15 budget.

The budget’s largest proposed increase is in instruction, in part due to a new in-house special education program “that’s going to allow a lot of our students coming in to stay in the district and receive services in the district,” Ms. Buscemi said. But those increases are expected to be offset savings in things like transportation and tuition fees. Total Instruction, which accounts for 57 percent of all expenses, is projected to increase by 3.14 percent, or $641,128 from this year’s budget, for a projected total of $21.06 million.

While instruction costs, which includes appropriations for all regular instruction at both the Sag Harbor Elementary School and Pierson Middle/High School, as well as expenditures for special education programs, extracurricular activities and athletics, is increasing, employee benefits are expected to decrease.

“We did receive an increase to our health insurance lines,” Ms. Buscemi said, “but [with the] decrease in our pension costs, we were able to show a decline for next year…that’s probably the first time in many, many years where you see a decline in employee benefits.”

Employee benefits, which represent almost a quarter of the entire budget, are expected to decline by 1.56 percent.

Salaries and benefits, largely contractual costs, together make up nearly 80 percent of the total budget.

Tuition revenues are expected to decrease by $147,000, because children who have been coming to the district from the Springs School District will now be going to East Hampton after a new agreement was made between those districts. Sag Harbor collected $550,000 in out-of-district tuition and transportation costs in 2014-15, and expects that revenue to decrease to $430,000 next year.

Ms. Buscemi again proposed that the district purchase a new bus. It would ease transportation scheduling and ultimately show cost savings, she said. Contracting out one bus run costs about $50,000 for the year, Ms. Buscemi said, “So it makes sense for us to go out and purchase a new bus” because the cost of $102,000 could be made up in just two years.

“We’re just under the cap right now at 2.65” percent, Ms. Buscemi said of the state-mandated tax cap on how much the property tax levy can increase year to year, “but in order to close our budget gap, we did need to use some of our reserve funds.”

As projected, the tax levy limit for Sag Harbor is above $34.1 million, or 2.68 percent. The percentage is not the same as the increase to an individual property owner’s tax rate. The tax levy is determined by the budget minus revenues and other funding sources, such as state aid. The tax rate, on the other hand, “is based not only on the levy, but also on the assessed value of your home,” Ms. Buscemi explained.

For the first time since the 2010-11 school year, the taxable assessed values for both the Town of Southampton and the Town of East Hampton increased from the prior year. Although the school district’s voters approved a budget last year that allowed for a tax levy increase of 1.48 percent, the tax rate per $1,000 of assessed value actually decreased by 0.56 to 0.63 percent, depending on home value and town, because of the growth in taxable assessed value.

“Just because the tax levy is increasing, that doesn’t necessarily mean that your tax rate is going to increase,” added Ms. Buscemi. “If the current year’s assessed value goes up these increases are going to decline and vice versa.”

The 2015-16 projected tax levy is about $34.1 million, which represents a tax levy increase of 2.65 percent and a projected tax rate increase of 2.5 percent.

That projected tax rate increase of 2.5 percent would translate to an increase of $130.26 for a home in Southampton valued at $1 million and $130.40 for a home of the same value in East Hampton, based on the 2014-15 assessed values.

A second review of the entire budget will be held on Tuesday, April 14, at 6:45 p.m. in the library of Pierson Middle/High School, located at 201 Jermain Street in Sag Harbor. The school board plans to adopt the 2015-16 budget on April 22 and hold a public hearing on May 5. The annual budget vote and school board elections are on May 19.

School District Administrators Propose Plan for In-House Special Education Program in Sag Harbor

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Sag Harbor seniors celebrate their graduation following the Pierson High School commencement ceremony on June 28, 2014. Photo by Michael Heller.

Sag Harbor seniors celebrate their graduation following the Pierson High School commencement ceremony on June 28, 2014. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

Hoping to develop a new in-house program for students with disabilities, Sag Harbor School District administrators proposed a special education budget to the Board of Education on Thursday, March 12, that would keep those students in the district while still reducing expenses by almost 5 percent from last year’s budget.

“For the first time in many years, we have a lot of preschool students with some very profound disabilities,” Director of Pupil Personnel Services Barbara Bekermus told the board. “These are our kids and they should be in our schools is the bottom line…. I also think it’s a benefit, and it’s more effective to keep the students in our school financially, but most importantly, they belong in our community.”

Ms. Bekermus said the parents of special needs students that she has spoken with are “so excited” at the prospect of their children staying at Sag Harbor Elementary School, rather than traveling to programs as far away as Center Moriches and Cutchogue, and spending as much as three hours on a bus each day.

The in-house program would be a class with students in kindergarten, first and second grade, with up to eight students, a teacher and three teaching assistants. Ms. Bekermus said there are about 11 students entering those grades who would qualify for the special services and estimated that four or five of them would be assigned to the special class, while the rest would be based in inclusion classrooms. The elementary school already has a behavioral specialist, Elizabeth Rasor, on staff.

“When I observe other programs and I know what Sag Harbor Elementary School does, I know we can do it as well if not better…I have total confidence,” said Ms. Bekermus.

If the district does not start its own in-house program at the elementary school, it would be required to find alternative placement for those special educations students and would need to pay tuition to the school they attend, such as Childhood Development Center of the Hamptons in East Hampton. The district also pays busing costs for those students.

Even with adding the teachers, speech therapist and occupational therapist, and the respective salaries and benefits, Ms. Buscemi said, “you’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings.” If the district decides to pursue an in-house special education program, the new students coming in would add a projected cost of $614,000, School Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi said. She said those costs would be offset by lower expenses elsewhere, such as for busing and tuition rates.

Despite the projected increase for the proposed new program, the special education budget would still be decreasing by 4.9 percent overall. The proposed budget for next year, the 2015-16 school year, for special education is about $3.8 million, a decrease of nearly $200,000 from the current school year’s operating budget.

“It would still cost the district and taxpayers less if we bring it in-house than if we don’t. So, this is a benefit to the students and it’s a benefit to the taxpayers,” summed up Chris Tice, the board’s vice president.

Ms. Bekermus noted that if students choose to stay at CDCH despite Sag Harbor having its own program, the district would still have to pay for those students.

“This is heart-driven, this is really all about children,” said Superintendent Katy Graves, who was in support of the proposal, citing research that “tells us when students are around their peers they make much faster progress,” and that special education students often read at a faster rate and excel when “mainstreamed” into their local schools with students of all levels.

There is also the advantage of students being integrated into the community where they will likely be working and living as young adults and adults, Ms. Bekermus said.

Ms. Tice added that non-special education students would likewise benefit from developing relationships with their peers who have disabilities.

After hearing about the impact of tax rate projections at its upcoming budget workshop on Monday, March 23, the Board of Education plans to adopt the budget on April 22, with a hearing scheduled for May 5 and the annual budget vote and election on May 19.

Sag Harbor Board of Education Critical of Governor’s Proposed Reforms for Teachers

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By Tessa Raebeck

In response to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed education initiatives, one of which would require that half of the measurement of whether a teacher is good at his or her job be based on students’ test scores alone, the Sag Harbor Board of Education expressed its concerns over the state’s reliance on state tests.

In January, Governor Cuomo gave New York’s legislators an ultimatum: pass his package of education reforms and see the state’s schools receive an additional $1.1 billion, or 4.8 percent, in funding, or fail to pass his reforms, and see that increase drop to 1.7 percent.

At the center of his reforms is teacher evaluation.

“Everyone will tell you, nationwide, the key to education reform is a teacher evaluation system,” the governor said in his State of the State address in January.

As the school board’s legislative liaison, board member Tommy John Schiavoni visited Albany on March 15 and 16 for the New York State School Boards Association Capital Conference. The conference was organized to enable school board members to lobby state legislators and “effectively advocate for [their] school district and students in Albany and at home,” according to NYSSBA.

At the Thursday, March 12, board meeting Mr. Schiavoni said he would “of course focus on funding” at the conference, urging legislators to reduce mandates, especially those that are unfunded; fully fund public education; and repeal the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), a formula criticized by legislators and schools boards alike that was created to close a state budget gap five years ago, yet continues to take state aid away from some school districts.

“And if they do make us use outside observers,” Mr. Schiavoni said, referring to the specialists who would be sent into “failing” schools, “please give us money to do that.”

Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., an Independent, and State Senator Kenneth LaValle, a Republican, introduced legislation to repeal the GEA in February.

School board member Diana Kolhoff, an education consultant and former math teacher, said she was particularly concerned with testing accounting for 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation.

“As an educator, I know evaluative testing has value,” she admitted, adding that she believes “50 percent is going to drive instruction toward test prep—and I think it’s a bad idea.”

Weighing a teacher’s merits as an educator “so heavily on one event” is unfair, Ms. Kolhoff added.

“It is ridiculous,” agreed Chris Tice, the board’s vice president. “It just puts more pressure on that single test being the only measure of effectiveness…. It’s very unhealthy. This increased anxiety-ridden testing environment that the governor’s creating and ratcheting up—I don’t think it’s healthy for students.”

“We’re reading articles about less and less people wanting to become teachers in New York State,” she continued, attributing that to a political climate in Albany that seems to be “hostile” towards both teachers and children.

Enrollment in teacher education courses has declined drastically over the last five years. In New York State, there were nearly 80,000 students registered for teaching programs during the 2009-10 school year, yet only about 62,000 in 2011-12, representing a 22 percent decline in two years. The drop has continued over the past years in New York and other large states like California and Texas, but is not uniform in all states across the country, according to data collected by the U.S. Department of Education.

The next meeting of the Sag Harbor Board of Education is Monday, March 23, at 7:30 p.m. in the library at Pierson Middle/High School.

Sorry Kids, Sag Harbor Spring Break Affected by Snow Days Again this Year

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As his friends look on, Philip Miller catches air on Pierson Hill following the Blizzard of 2015 on Tuesday, 1/27/15

Making the best of the biggest blizzard in years, Philip Miller shreds a buried bench on Pierson Hill as his friends look on on Tuesday, January 27. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Tessa Raebeck

After Sag Harbor students enjoyed their fourth snow day off this school year on Thursday, March 5, Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Katy Graves announced they would have to make up for the loss of one day of instructional time. As a result, students will lose the last week day of their scheduled spring break and will be required to attend school on Friday, April 10.

“We encourage you to have your children come to school on April 10, but we are understanding if your family has made other plans. Our parents are our children’s finest teachers; time spent with your children is never wasted,” Ms. Graves said in an email to the school community.

Required by law to have 180 full days of instruction each year, school districts are faced with the tricky task of balancing breaks with preparation for inclement weather, which has become a more pressing concern with the extreme storms and conditions in recent years. Extra snow days cut into the scheduled spring break last year, as did Hurricane Sandy the year before.

“I am hopeful that the adage is true that when March comes in like a lion, it goes out like a lamb,” Ms. Graves said in her email. “We certainly have seen March’s winter claws, but we have also enjoyed the beauty of Pierson Hill deep in snow.”

Dr. Lois Favre, the superintendent of the Bridgehampton School District, said it had 180 school days scheduled and would not have to make up any lost days unless school is canceled again.

Ms. Graves said on Tuesday that if the district were to need another snow day, which could occur along with the forecasts of inclement weather for this coming weekend, “we’ll continue to carve away at that vacation time, but we’re really hoping that that’s not going to be the case.”

The next vacation day to be turned into a school day would be Thursday, April 9, also during the spring recess.

In its contract with the Teachers Association of Sag Harbor (TASH), the district pledged to never start school before Labor Day, “which is good for our families and our district and it works also for our teachers… we have to respect that,” Ms. Graves said.

The provision is intended to protect members of the community and staff who work second jobs during the summer months and rent their homes out during Sag Harbor’s busy resort season.

Planning for the upcoming 2015-16 school year poses extra challenges because Labor Day is late this year, falling on Monday, September 7. That means the window for the school year is narrower than it normal is. Because Labor Day is always celebrated on the first Monday in September, the district faces such a situation once every seven years.

“We’re adopting a calendar that right now only has two snow days built in, so we’re probably going to have to continue to be thoughtful about this,” said Ms. Graves. “We’re going to have to continue sitting down with our teachers association, PTA [Parent Teachers Association] and the Board of Education and probably coming up with a contingency plan.”

One option she mentioned is adding flex dates during the summer, when children have a day off but faculty and staff come in for training.

“I don’t know what those other options look like right now, but the New York State Department of Education gives us just a tiny little bit of latitude and that’s what we might need to bring to the table—is just a little bit of latitude and to see what we can do for next year,” Ms. Graves said.

Sag Harbor School District Facilities Director Terminated

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By Tessa Raebeck

web-Monty-Granger-8-3-09_2380

After working in the Sag Harbor School District for five years, Plant Facilities Administrator Montgomery Granger was fired in February.

In a rare mid-school year firing, the Sag Harbor Board of Education terminated its director of facilities on February 23. Montgomery “Monty” Granger was let go after five years of working for the school district.

Mr. Granger started working in the district in a dual role as director of health, physical education and athletics and director of buildings and grounds in August 2009. Three years later, when Todd Gulluscio was hired as athletics director, Mr. Granger’s position changed to plant facilities administrator, where he focused primarily on buildings and grounds since August 2012. Donnelly McGovern is the district’s current athletic director.

Superintendent Katy Graves would not comment specifically on why Mr. Granger was let go. “We just continue to do what’s best for the district, so all of our decisions are what’s best for children, fair for adults, and what the community can sustain,” she said on Tuesday. “And that was absolutely a personnel matter.”

Mr. Granger presented his proposed buildings and grounds budget to the board on January 23, which included a suggested salary of $102,304 for himself. The board held a special meeting, closed to the public, to discuss the employment of  staff member without providing details on February 9, and Mr. Granger was escorted out of the Sag Harbor Elementary School that week.

Prior to working with the Sag Harbor School District, Mr. Granger was district administrator for operations for the Comsewogue School District from 2004 to 2009, and that district’s director of health, physical education and athletics from 2000 to 2004.

Mr. Granger was mobilized three times as a field medical assistant in the United States Army Reserves, a position he held from 1986 until he retired as a major in 2008. During his tours, Mr. Granger worked in such facilities as the Abu Ghraib Prison outside of Baghdad and Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. He was charged with making sure “medical, preventive medical, environmental and other aspects of detention operations were in compliance with U.S. Army, Department of Defense, and Geneva Convention regulations and laws,” he told the Sag Harbor Express in 2009.

Mr. Granger could not be reached for comment.

Thiele Proposes Legislation to Eliminate GEA, Give State Aid Back to Schools

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By Tessa Raebeck 

In order to fill a shortfall in its budget, five years ago New York State began deducting aid money from its school districts through the Gap Elimination Adjustment (GEA), a formula loudly criticized by educators, school boards and districts across the state.

Now, state Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. of Sag Harbor has introduced legislation to repeal the GEA. His bill is co-sponsored by State Senator Kenneth LaValle and supported by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

Originally enacted to close a $10 billion state budget deficit in the worst years of the recession, the GEA has reduced education aid to New York’s schools by nearly $9 billion in the five school years since its inception in 2010. Schools in New York receive less state aid now than they did during the 2009-10 school year.

Although East End schools do not typically receive large amounts of state aid, the GEA has cost Sag Harbor more than $400,000 over the past two years.

The GEA was introduced by former Governor David Paterson when state legislators developing the budget realized New York’s anticipated revenue did not cover expenses, resulting in a “gap” between the money the state was taking in and the money it needed to operate. The GEA was created to fill that gap by essentially passing the financial burden onto the state’s school districts.

Assemblyman Thiele, who serves on the Assembly’s Education Committee and did not vote in favor of the reduced education aid when it was originally proposed five years ago, said on Tuesday that the financial issues used to promote the GEA are no longer facing the state, and thus its elimination this year is both incumbent and timely.

“I voted against it then because I didn’t think we should be taking money away from education, but now we’ve gone from a deficit to over a $5 billion surplus, so there really is no excuse for continuing the Gap Elimination Adjustment, which is a continuing cut in state aid for the local school districts,” he said.

“Continued state aid loss due to GEA reductions will continue to erode the quality of education school districts can provide. The state cannot continue to pass along its revenue shortfalls to local school districts,” the New York State School Boards Association said in a statement against the GEA, adding that the losses have resulted in “detrimental cuts to personnel, the educational program, services and extracurricular activities” as well as the depletion of reserve funding in districts across the state.

School district officials in both Bridgehampton and Sag Harbor regularly lament that the reduction in state aid has come at the same time as rising costs and the tax levy cap, a law enacted under Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2011 that limits school districts and other municipalities from raising property taxes by district-specific formulas that take into account variables like the Consumer Price Index.

“At a time when New York State has the dual goals of freezing property taxes and improving the quality of education, it is imperative that we provide a level of state funding that is equal to the task,” Assemblyman Thiele said in a press release on the bill.

In a statement taking a strong stance against the aid reduction, the Board of Cooperative Educational Services said, “Several years into the educational funding crisis, many school districts are finding that they have few options left to preserve programs and services that students and families count on.”

The amount taken from each school district is determined annually by a calculation that leans harder on wealthy districts, so suburban schools on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley are, in general, adversely affected by the reduction more than those in New York City.

Last year, Long Island enrolled 17 percent of New York’s students, but received only 12 percent of state aid for education.

“It’s more important to us than it is to the city school districts,” said Assemblyman Thiele. For suburban legislators from Long Island and the Hudson Valley, he said “the number-one priority for education for us is getting rid of the Gap Elimination Adjustment.”

In the 2013-14 school year, the Sag Harbor School District had some $241,000 in state aid taken away through the GEA, according School Business Administrator Jen Buscemi. This year, the district lost $171,395 in aid it otherwise would have received.

“The bottom line,” Assemblyman Thiele said, “is that this issue is going to get resolved one way or another as part of the school aid package that we do with the budget, that hopefully will be done  before April 1.”

In January, Governor Cuomo announced he would not release his school aid figures unless the legislature adopts his package of educational reforms. He agreed to grant an additional $1.1 billion, or 4.8 percent, in funding to New York’s schools if and only if the legislature passes his reforms, but threatened to limit that increase to 1.7 percent if they are not met.

Sag Harbor School District Seeks Appraisal for Stella Maris Property

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The building that formerly housed the Stella Maris Regional School on Division Street in Sag Harbor. Photo by Stephen J. Kotz.

The building that formerly housed the Stella Maris Regional School on Division Street in Sag Harbor. Photo by Stephen J. Kotz.

By Tessa Raebeck

Four months after it was disclosed that the former Stella Maris Regional School on Division Street in Sag Harbor was on the market, the Sag Harbor School District has announced that it is seeking an appraisal of the site.

The board of education and district administrators have discussed the property at a number of executive sessions that are closed to the public since the property’s availability was announced, and are now taking the first step toward a public discussion of a possible purchase.

“At this point, we aren’t making any decisions of how we would utilize the property,” said Superintendent Katy Graves. “This is just a first, very initial step to take a look at the property and gather information about the property.”

The .74-acre property is listed for $3.5 million. It is zoned for offices or classrooms and owned by St. Andrew’s Roman Catholic Church, a parish of the Diocese of Rockville Centre. The one-story building is 32,234 square feet. The site is less than a mile from both Pierson Middle/High School and the Sag Harbor Elementary School.

“The Board of Education is in the process of engaging the services of appraisal firms for the purpose of gathering data. Once the firms have been hired and all of the facts, figures and use viability of the building have been gathered, the board will share the information with the Sag Harbor community for their full participation. Any decision regarding the property will involve strategic engagement with all stakeholders in the community,” the district said in a press release Tuesday.

Ms. Graves said the ultimate decision of whether or not to purchase the property “would really have to go to a vote” for district residents.

Although the purchase is far from a sure thing, the superintendent floated some ideas of how the property could be used.

“We do send children out for services elsewhere—some of our student population goes elsewhere at a very high cost to be serviced in other areas, so we’re always interested in keeping our children as close as possible,” she said, adding, “Those are all things we want to kind of analyze and share, but we don’t want to get our hopes up—this would only be if it really worked best for the community and it worked best for the school district.”

Specifically, some of Sag Harbor’s special needs students must travel to schools up-island to get the services they need, and students enrolled in career and technical education courses must go to BOCES facilities up-island. Ms. Graves said that in addition to the financial burden of transporting students to other schools and enrolling them elsewhere, not having those services in the district comes with the added cost of not having all of Sag Harbor’s schoolchildren close to home.

While technical education would likely remain at BOCES, special needs services could potentially be provided in-house if the district acquires more land. Other schools in the area are also sending special education students to far away schools, and Ms. Graves suggested that the acquisition of the Stella Maris property could be a way to explore sharing services with other districts—and thus saving costs.

“This is the initial, initial stage, but New York State is demanding of us now that we secure every opportunity for sharing services, that we find every opportunity under the tax cap to explore sharing personnel, explore every opportunity for cost saving,” said Ms. Graves. “In our community, we’re going to garner the services of appraisal firms to look at that property and get feedback that we can share with our community.”

“We aren’t making any moves as far as education without—we’re doing it hand in hand with the community and our stakeholders,” she added.

With an influx of students who pay tuition to attend Sag Harbor schools and a student population that has grown steadily over the past six years, the school district now has over 1,000 students, as well as over half a million dollars in revenue from tuition paying students.

In operation as a school for 134 years, Stella Maris was Long Island’s oldest Catholic school when it closed its doors in 2011 due to a $480,000 deficit. Parents at the school tried to fundraise to keep the school open, but were unsuccessful. Since the school closed, its building has been used occasionally for fundraisers and village police training, and has seen two unsuccessful attempts to open preschools on the property.

Sag Harbor School District Proposes Technology, Transportation, Benefits Budget

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By Tessa Raebeck

A month before the entire 2015-16 budget is to be reviewed, Sag Harbor School District administrators presented technology, debt service, employee benefits and transportation components to the board of education on Monday.

With “no additional items that we haven’t had in previous budgets,” according to Technology Director Scott Fisher, the technology budget is proposed at slightly over $1 million, up by nearly 12 percent from the 2014-15 budget, which was just above $932,000.

“As you all know,” Mr. Fisher told the board, “the role of technology has expanded here exponentially in the past years…essentially everybody in the district is somehow impacted by the technology support.”

The technology department is looking to bring in additional support staff and to continue its upgrading, replenishment and purchasing of computer and wireless systems and supplies. Proposed increases of $18,650 at the Sag Harbor Elementary School and $15,200 at Pierson Middle/High School will account for the purchase of additional laptops and Chromebooks, low-cost computers that are popular in classrooms.

The transportation budget, computed by School Business Administrator Jennifer Buscemi and Head Bus Driver Maude Stephens, who was not at Monday’s meeting, would increase by just about $51,000, or 6.83 percent, to about $802,000, due in large part to a proposed bus purchase.

“Right now, all of our buses are being utilized and we don’t even have a spare bus,” said Ms. Buscemi, adding that the state Education Department recommends school districts have at least one spare.

Buying a new large bus would cost the district $102,000 up front. Another option, Ms. Buscemi said, would be to finance the bus over a 10-year period, a decision that would require the district to budget $13,000 a year for the next decade. School buses have an expected life of about 15 years, she added.

Chris Tice, vice president of the school board, said it would be practical to finance the bus purchase due to low interest rates and because “we have such a phenomenal bond rating,” as Moody’s Investors Service upgraded the district’s bond rating from A1 to Aa3 last May.

The employee benefits component of the budget, an area that usually shows large, unavoidable increases, is actually expected to decrease for the 2015-16 school year, due to a reduction in the percentage school districts must contribute to retirement costs.

The Teacher’s Retirement System (TRS) is recommending an employer contribution rate of about 13 percent for the 2015-16 school year, while that rate was much higher, at over 17 percent, for this school year, 2014-15. The employees are not receiving less in benefits, due to the change, rather, school districts are being required to contribute a smaller amount needed for the system to be able to pay out the required amount in benefits.

“That reduction of $518,000 is going to eat up a lot of the increases in the other areas,” Ms. Buscemi said, adding, “This is probably the first time in a long time that you’re going to see a decrease in that employee benefit and I’m hoping that that continues.”

The total projected employee benefits budget for next year is around $9.3 million, a decrease of $128,125, or 1.35 percent, from this year’s budget.

The debt services budget is also proposed to decrease, going down by about $29,000, or 2.48 percent, to a projected total of over $1.5 million. That projection is in part based on historically low interest rates.

With many of the rates needed to compute the budget not yet available, Ms. Buscemi had to estimate on some of the budget items, usually anticipating an increase of 3 percent.

“There are definitely areas here—that I’ve gone through in the past budget workshops and today—that we could cut if we had to,” Ms. Buscemi said, using the proposed school bus purchase as an example.

The preliminary numbers, Ms. Buscemi told the board, suggest the school district is in a very good position for the budget season and will “be able to maintain everything this year.”

The state aid numbers, which show New York’s school districts how much money they can expect from the state, have still not been released by Governor Andrew Cuomo and are expected to remain in political limbo for some time. The governor has said he will not release his education budget until the divided State Legislature approves all of his proposed educational reforms, many of which are controversial.

Sag Harbor School District Is Prime for Real Estate

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Linda Adlah rented a home in Sag Harbor so her children, Anabella and Gabrielle, could attend the Sag Harbor Elementary School. Michael Heller photo.

Linda Adlah rented a home in Sag Harbor so her children, Anabella and Gabrielle, could attend the Sag Harbor Elementary School. Michael Heller photo.

By Tessa Raebeck

First known for whale oil, then watches, Sag Harbor is again being recognized, this time for its schools. The East End real estate market has seen an influx of buyers and renters with one primary request: living in the Sag Harbor School District.

“In real estate sales, there are always the five top questions potential buyers will ask and always in the top five is: ‘How is the school district?’” said Robert Evjen, a broker at Douglas Elliman in Sag Harbor. “It is always on the buyer’s mind.”

“For those buyers with families or starting to have families,” he continued, “this is critical to the future of that family and critical about where to buy. For families who already have children, a location with a ‘neighborhood feel’ and a place ‘where the kids can play safely’ is very, very important. Moms and dads are willing to pay more to ensure a quality education.”

Sag Harbor, currently viewed as a smart investment by financiers and young families alike, is drawing buyers and renters who want to send their kids to school in the village—and the resurgence of popularity is in turn driving market prices up.

“We have seen an uptick of families moving here ‘year round’ and we are blessed that the Sag Harbor School District has always been popular with these new families. As these families move here and learn about the East End and what choices or schools to send their children, we always seem to be the choice,” Mr. Evjen said.

With a current total enrollment of 1,011 students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, Sag Harbor is smaller than nearby East Hampton, but not as small as Bridgehampton, with just 159 students in the district, or Shelter Island, which has 242 students. The student-faculty ratio at Pierson Middle/High School is nine to one, better than Westhampton Beach’s 14 to one and comparable to East Hampton and Southampton, which have 10 students per teacher, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Liam Rothwell-Pessino, lives in Springs, but decided to attend high school in Sag Harbor because of Pierson’s smaller size.

“The school being smaller means I get to know more people better, teachers included,” he said of his experience at Pierson, where he is currently a senior.

Sag Harbor Superintendent Katy Graves said the school district projects its enrollment to increase until 2018, when there will be an estimated 1,080 students in pre-kindergarten through grade 12.

Mr. Evjen said there has been a “tremendous” increase of families wanting to live in the school district, indicated by the growth of the pre-kindergarten program and the increase in non-resident students, which he called “a great testament to the curriculum the school has set up.”

The school district currently receives tuition for 29 nonresident students; the Sagaponack School District pays for nine, the Springs School District pays for three, and 17 pay privately. The tuition rate for nonresident students for the current school year is $17,038 for students to attend the elementary school and $22,148 to attend Pierson. Special education students are charged $46,464 and $53,380, respectively.

A school district must pay tuition for its residents to attend school elsewhere if that student has a special need the district cannot meet, such as observational therapy or speech therapy. Sag Harbor’s comprehensive approach to students with disabilities adds to the draw for many families.

Having moved from Hampton Bays to Sag Harbor when her two daughters were babies, Linda Torres Adlah has been renting in the district ever since; her girls are now in third and fourth grade at the elementary school.

“Both of my daughters had to go through the evaluation process when they were younger, one needed speech therapy and one needed some physical therapy and observational therapy, and it was a very easy environment. They were very forthcoming with giving the kids what they needed to have when they were little,” she said of the elementary school faculty. “I never had to worry that they wouldn’t get the services they needed, there was always lots of support. I’ve heard such good things about the school that I knew that’s where I wanted them to be.”